A war is raging in the aquatics world today — a war we seem to be losing. The enemy is an insidious and increasingly hard-to-kill one known as recreational water illnesses, or RWIs. And by many indications, we are losing ground to them.

In 2001-2002, 60 percent of all RWI outbreaks occurred in treated water facilities, according to the most recent statistics available from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. More recently, as we’ve all no doubt heard by now, a spraypark in New York is the subject of a class action lawsuit after a crypto outbreak sickened thousands. The problem has gotten so bad that the CDC gave the industry a real slap in the face. It is now recommending that people check pool and spa water with test strips before entering public venues.

Why is the enemy gaining ground? The answer is quite simple: Aquatics professionals don’t have the proper information to fight RWIs. That is why I’m proposing a relatively simple concept that could well prove to be a turning point in the war. I think it is time for the industry to expand the current certification processes of aquatics professionals (operators, lifeguards, service technicians, coaches) to include certification in preventive disease transmission and identification.

The curriculum for such an idea is already in place and available nationwide. But it would require that aquatics organizations such as the National Swimming Pool Foundation, the American Swimming Coaches Association, United States Swimming, United States Diving, and the National Parks & Recreation Association integrate this information into their current requirements.

While it is logical to include operators and service techs in this approach, it may be less clear why swimming and diving coaches need to be included. Let me explain:

The education of a coach should not be limited to stroke or diving technique, physiology or biomechanics. Basic course requirements necessary for aspiring coaches in swimming and diving clearly do not prepare the future coach to recognize disease transmission dangers. These courses need this basic prerequisite to make it possible for coaches to become aware of the danger that RWIs present to the athletes under their direct control. They also must understand the potential for an athlete’s exposure to recreational water illnesses at the aquatics facility where they practice and the hotel/motel pool or spa where they rest while traveling to or waiting between prelims and finals during competition. In other words, coaches are playing roulette with their athletes when they can’t recognize the warning signs or dangers of waterborne transmission.

Indeed, 405 athletes were the victims of an RWI outbreak in 2001-2002, according to the CDC. One RWI outbreak was further exacerbated when athletes in Pennsylvania exposed more than 150 athletes at a competition venue to RWIs because they did not shower after being exposed at the hotel/motel spa and pool.

In addition to protecting athletes and patrons, the credibility that would be gained by certifying aquatics professionals nationwide to reduce ever-expanding RWIs is worth the collaboration needed to make it happen.

The image such a pool operator, coach, lifeguard or instructor would project to patrons would be that of an aquatics professional, not a person requiring unskilled laypeople to do their job for them.

Not only will an adoption of this knowledge create a valuable weapon in the war against RWIs, but it also will provide a fertile field of collaboration between renowned certifying aquatics organizations.

This collaboration can be the focal point of a unified “plan of attack” against RWIs. Creating a course module in RWI disease transmission as a prerequisite before graduating or certifying operators and service technicians, as well as swimming and diving coaches, will broaden the base of recruits armed with a unified understanding in how to battle the RWI threat to the general public and our aquatics industry.

Preventing RWIs is unquestionably important to the health of patrons who use aquatics venues. So there should be no question that requiring aquatics professionals to understand the dangers of RWIs as a prerequisite before becoming certified will create a broader base of understanding in which this menace can be vanquished. And the war can finally be won.